I started playing Rage this afternoon and perhaps it is because I recently finished Gears of War 3, or perhaps it’s just my current mood, but so far I can see why the game didn’t really sell very well. There appears to be a complete lack of interest in exposing any kind of story. The setting has potential but the developers appear to have been more interested in the volume of the weapons and shininess of the graphics than in providing any kind of narrative or motivation to connect with the world around you.
A short introduction hinted that the Earth has been hit by an asteroid; presumably decimating humankind as we know it. However, several people, including myself, were buried in some form of stasis pods under the ground. Something has prompted a computer to wake me from my pod before thrusting me out into the wasteland. Moments after stepping outside I am attacked by a zombie and then subsequently rescued by a man in a car. The man in the car explains that by saving me he has put himself and everyone he knows in grave danger and that I must now go and wipe out a group of local bandits in order to to repay his kindness and keep him safe. Before I even have a chance to say “What the hell is going on around here?” I’m running around with a pistol killing a bunch of bandits by shooting them in the face. My character shows no emotion nor reaction to the events that have led to this point and just proceeds to follow orders and fire away.
There is a lot of potential here. A ravaged Earth that was brought about by an asteroid strike, post-apocalyptic subject matter and humankinds struggle for survival. The problem is that all of it has been delivered so quickly and with so little exposition that I feel disconnected from the world and unable to really identify with what’s happening. At the behest of my rescuer I took a pistol and an ATV, followed directions to the bandits hideout and proceeded to shoot them all in the face. My character has so far expressed no real emotion about having been asleep in a cryogenic pod for (some number of?) years, or about almost having his face ripped off by some kind of wasteland zombie. He went from cryogenic sleep to rushing out into the wasteland, being attacked then rescued, and on to being a genocidal wanderer within the space of about eight minutes. It unfortunately leaves the experience feeling rather flat.
While I don’t expect every video game to provide an in-depth story experience, I do like to be able to at least relate to the actions my character is taking in the game. Simply running around shooting things because an on-screen prompt tells me to do so feels very 1995. Games like Max Payne, Mass Effect, God of War, Gears of War, and many others have demonstrated that it’s possible to motivate the player by setting the scene and evoking a direct emotional connection with the world around them. The actions you take are driven by an emotional connection with the simulated scenarios around you. You care for the characters because in some ways you feel as though you are responsible for the actions you made them take. That connection yields a richer experience than any fancy graphics or spooky soundtrack, at least for me. Hopefully Rage will pick up soon and give me both some back-story and much needed emotion. Otherwise it may simply be another forgetting run-and-gun story that I blast through to see the credits.